ORLANDO — The Celtics are not ignoring statements made by Marcus Smart after Monday night’s loss to the Bulls. They are trying to use his words constructively as the attempt to break out of their early-season malaise.
The Celtics weren’t available for comment on Tuesday, so coach Ime Udoka’s news conference prior to Wednesday night’s 92-79 win over the Magic was filled with questions about Smart’s assessment that stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum need to pass more late in games.
The Celtics’ fourth-quarter offense has been abysmal. They entered Wednesday night shooting 35.9 percent from the field (last in the NBA) and averaging 23 points (25th) in the quarter.
The Celtics were 5 for 23 shooting and scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter against the Bulls.
“Some of the things [Smart] said are things that we talk about every day,” Udoka said. “I preached that from Day One with Jayson and Jaylen, and guys growing in that area and being playmakers. It’s stuff we’re constantly showing on film, talking about. It’s nothing new as far as what we have shown and done, and they’ve done a great job growing in those areas.
“Marcus and Jaylen and Jayson have a history of being together for a long time and every team I’ve been on has had moments where they’ve butted heads. We’ll leave it at that. It’s something that’s addressed.”
It’s been a difficult start for Udoka in Boston. The Celtics (2-5 entering Wednesday night’s game) have lost twice in double overtime, one with a fourth-quarter collapse and the other when they melted in the second half against the Raptors.
“If you look at the big-picture approach, losing two double-overtime games, and then you look at last game where we’re up 19, and you look at the record and that’s one thing,” Udoka said. “But you look at the results and the growth that we’ve shown in the last few games and we’re playing the right way and haven’t closed out a few for whatever reason. As long as we’re headed in the right direction and continue to go toward our goals, that’s the big picture.
“It could be easily 4-3, 5-2, and there probably wouldn’t be any questions about it. The fact that we haven’t finished, we’re going to get these questions, and 2-5 is not up to our standard.”
While Brown has been a dependable scorer down the stretch, Tatum has been a different story. Tatum, a two-time All-Star, entered Wednesday night 8 for 32 from the field in the fourth quarter this season, averaging just 4.1 points. In the loss to the Bulls, Tatum was 1 for 8 for 2 points in the fourth.
Teams are collapsing on Tatum, who starred for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics, and he’s not responding favorably. What’s more, he is just 4 for 16 shooting at the rim in the fourth quarter, well below the league average of 57.6 percent.
“Specifically that night, Chicago blitzed them,” Udoka said of Brown and Tatum. “They were committed to taking the ball out of their hands, and the part I was probably disappointed in is we didn’t attack it and score behind it. It wasn’t that we had young guys out there; we had some of our veterans out there.”
Udoka said he feels players other than Tatum and Brown need to capitalize on the collapsing defenses and score on their own. In that fourth quarter against the Bulls, the Celtics (not including Tatum and Brown) were 4 for 13 from the field, with Josh Richardson and Dennis Schröder 0 for 5.
“I feel like we either go with [the others] and get the numbers behind it or hit Al [Horford] or Rob [Williams] and play off that, and we just happened to get some great looks and missed some shots with Josh and Dennis,” Udoka said. “[The Bulls] were committed to that being they were down that much, and [Tatum and Brown] made the right play, got off the ball, and relied on their teammates. Got to understand we have a big lead like that and we’re playing well, [teams] are going to try to make the other guys beat us, and that worked for Chicago that night.”
On solid footing
Williams tweaked his foot against the Bulls but returned and was in the starting lineup against the Magic. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 30 minutes … The Magic have the NBA’s youngest starting lineup, with the old man of the group being 23-year-old Mo Bamba. Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs are each 20, Cole Anthony is 21, and Wendell Carter is 22 … Former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz of the Magic remains out with a torn ACL and it’s uncertain if he will play this season.